Tuesday, September 06, 2005

More Patterns

Tom Engelhardt compares Hurricane Katrina to the concerns about Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

'The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of [the] hurricane... looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond's version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less -- mainly Black -- were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.' Admittedly a vivid description, but certainly commonplace enough at the moment -- except that it, too, was written back in September 2004 by Mike Davis, also for Tomdispatch, and prophetically labeled, 'Poor, Black, and Left Behind.'

Then we get a little pattern recognition. Can you see the patterns emerging from the Bush handling of Katrina? Remind you of anything? Read on.

1. Revelations of unexpected superpower helplessness: A single catastrophic war against a modest-sized, not particularly dramatically armed minority insurgency in one oil land has brought the planet's mightiest military to a complete, grinding, disastrous halt and sent its wheels flying off in all directions. A single not-exactly-unexpected hurricane leveling a major American city and the coastlines of two states, has brought the emergency infrastructure of the world's mightiest power to a complete, grinding, disastrous halt and sent its wheels flying off in all directions.

2. Planning ignored: It's now notorious that the State Department did copious planning for a post-invasion, occupied Iraq, all of which was ignored by the Pentagon and Bush administration neocons when the country was taken. In New Orleans, it's already practically notorious that endless planning, disaster war-gaming, and the like were done for how to deal with a future "Atlantis scenario," none of which was attended to as Katrina bore down on the southeastern coast.

3. Lack of Boots on the ground: It's no less notorious that, from the moment before the invasion of Iraq when General Eric Shinseki told a congressional committee that "several hundred thousand troops" would minimally be needed to successfully occupy Iraq and was more or less laughed out of Washington, Donald Rumsfeld's new, lean, mean military has desperately lacked boots on the ground (hence those Louisiana and Mississippi National Guards off in Iraq). Significant numbers of National Guard only made it to New Orleans on the fifth and sixth days after Katrina struck and regular military boots-on-the-ground have been few and far between. No Pentagon help was pre-positioned for Katrina and, typically enough, the Navy hospital ship Comfort, scheduled to help, had not left Baltimore harbor by Friday morning for its many day voyage to the Gulf.

4. Looting: The inability (or unwillingness) to deploy occupying American troops to stem a wave of looting that left the complete administrative, security, and even cultural infrastructure of Baghdad destroyed is now nearly legendary, as is Donald Rumsfeld's response to the looting at the time. ("Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here." To which he added, on the issue of the wholesale looting of Baghdad, "Stuff happens.") In New Orleans, the President never declared martial law while, for days, gangs of armed looters along with desperate individuals abandoned and in need of food and supplies of all kinds, roamed the city uncontested as buildings began to burn.

What, facing this crisis, did the Bush administration actually do? The two early, symbolic actions it took were typical. Neither would have a significant effect on the immediate situation at hand, but both forwarded long-term administration agendas that had little to do with Katrina or the crisis in the southeastern United States: First, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was relaxing pollution standards on gasoline blends in order to counteract the energy crisis Katrina had immediately put on the table. This was, of course, but a small further step in the gutting of general environmental, clean air and pollution laws that strike hard at another kind of safety net -- the one protecting our planet. And second, its officials began to organize a major operation out of Northcom, Joint Task Force Katrina, to act as the military's on-scene command in "support" of an enfeebled FEMA. The U.S. Northern Command was set up by the Bush administration in 2002 and ever since has been prepared to take on ever larger, previously civilian tasks on our home continent. (As the Northcom site quotes the President as saying, "There is an overriding and urgent mission here in America today, and that's to protect our homeland. We have been called into action, and we've got to act.")

There were to be swift boats in the Gulf and Green Berets at the New Orleans airport, and yet Donald Rumsfeld's new, stripped-down, high-tech military either couldn't (or wouldn't) deploy any faster to New Orleans than it did to Baghdad, perhaps because it had already been so badly torn up and stressed out in Iraq (and had left most of its local "first responders" there).

5. Nation-building: As practically nobody remembers, George Bush in his first run for the presidency humbly eschewed the very idea of "nation-building" abroad. That was only until he sent the Pentagon blasting into Iraq. Over two years and endless billions of dollars later -- the Iraq War now being, on a monthly basis, more expensive than Vietnam -- the evidence of the administration's nation-building success in its "reconstruction" of Iraq is at hand for all to see. That country is now a catastrophe beyond imagining without repair in sight. (For Baghdad, think New Orleans without water, but with a full-scale insurgency.) So as the Pentagon ramps up in its ponderous manner to launch a campaign in the United States and as the Marines finally land in the streets of New Orleans, don't hold your breath about either the Pentagon's or the administration's nation-building skills in the U.S. (But count on "reconstruction" contracts going to Halliburton.) If Rumsfeld's Pentagon -- where so much of our money has gone in recent years -- turns out to be even a significant factor in the "reconstruction" of New Orleans, we'll never have that city back.

6. Predictions: Given the last two years in which the President as well as top administration officials have regularly insisted that we had reached the turning point, or turned that corner, or hit the necessary tipping point in Iraq, that success or progress or even victory was endlessly at hand (and then at hand again and then again), consider what we should think of the President's repeated statements of Katrina "confidence," his insistence that his administration can deal successfully with the hurricane's aftereffects and is capable of overseeing the successful rebuilding of New Orleans. ("All Americans can be certain our nation has the character, the resources, and the resolve to overcome this disaster. We will comfort and care for the victims. We will restore the towns and neighborhoods that have been lost in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. We'll rebuild the great city of New Orleans. And we'll once again show the world that the worst adversities bring out the best in America.")


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